In 1955 Dorothy Goodman, a postgraduate student in London, wanted to install central heating in the home she was setting up with her husband, Ray. As an American, she asked friends what the British equivalent was of the US non-profit organisation Consumer Reports. When she found that there was none, she took what to her was the obvious route of remedying the situation.
Dorry, who has died aged 97, met a group of friends to start looking at products and how to evaluate them. Initial efforts were a long way from the expert testing that Which? undertakes today. Her daughter Harriet remembers Dorry telling how she and Ray would measure out washing powder in their back garden, where sudden gusts of wind would send it flying around. “It was fun and an amateur effort in the old sense of the word – we loved what we were doing.”
Together the friends produced the first prototype issue of a magazine covering subjects from prams to scouring powders. Which? was just getting off the ground and money was tight, so Dorry managed to persuade the Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, to make a grant of $2,000 (the equivalent of around $40,000 today) to the nascent Institute of Consumer Research, which enabled them to appoint their first director.
However, in 1956 Ray got a job with the World Bank in Washington and the couple moved to the US. While Dorry was the prime mover for Which? it fell to the social innovator Michael Young, later Lord Young of Dartington, to lead the remaining friends to set up shop in a disused garage in east London and start work on the first proper issue.
Edited by Eirlys Roberts, it was published in October 1957. To the volunteers’ great surprise, 10,000 envelopes containing 10-shilling (50p) subscriptions came back by post, enabling the Consumers’ Association to keep going with work that has continued into the present.
Dorry’s life back in the US took a different turn. She was appointed to lecturing positions at Howard and American Universities in Washington DC. Her interest in education grew and she became convinced that US public schools were failing to teach essential language skills and prepare children for the wider world. She had a conviction that her generation had a duty to secure the future for the next.
In 1966, drawing on the concentration of World Bank families in her neighbourhood and aware of the frustrations they felt, she founded the Washington International school, an institution where children would learn in two languages, as a “pilot school for the planet”. Families in the area welcomed the project, and she was insistent in her belief that “education should not be parochial. In every way we try to be a world school.”
Dorry nurtured the development of and the eventual acceptance of the school into the International Baccalaureate programme, lobbied for funding and helped to secure appropriate space as the student body grew. Today, the WIS has more than 900 students from around the world. Dorry remained the head of the school until 1983.
Born in Minneapolis, she was the daughter of Elizabeth Bruchholz and her husband, Henry, a banker. From Miss Harris’s Florida school for girls in Miami she went to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1946 she worked with refugee organisations in New York and Austria. A Fulbright scholarship took her to London in 1949, and she gained a PhD from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, in 1955.
She married Raymond Goodman, a Londoner, in 1953, and kitting out their house turned her mind to consumer matters. In 1954 she wrote to her family in the US: ‘‘I am blue in the face from trying to get the simplest kind of information about paints, etc.”
Throughout her life in Washington, she remained close to her friends from the early days of Which?, and as an honorary vice-president of the organisation continued to receive copies of the magazine for many years.
I first met Dorry while working at Which? in 1970, and again later on as its vice-chair. She was very keen to see that the organisation she had founded should protect its independence from government, producers and special interest groups, and I was treated to an extended railing against the perceived failings of the American public education system.
In 2017, to mark the 60th anniversary of the first issue, Dorry was presented with a Founder’s Award and an honorary membership of the British Society of Magazine Editors in recognition of her contribution to the creation of the Consumers’ Association.
Ray died in 2016. She is survived by her children, Jeremy, Harriet, Matthew and Sophia, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
• Dorothy Goodman, consumer champion and educationist, born 15 January 1926; died 23 July 2023